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by GEOFFREY CHAUCER •
The General Prologue and Sixteen Tales
A READER-FRIENDLY EDITION
Put into modern spelling
the Pardoner. ii . his assistant. I am deeply indebted to Nick Irons.com http://www. Brooklyn. At least one edition of the Tales in Middle English spelling is available on the Internet through Labyrinth. the Merchant and the Franklin. MN 56353 littleleaf@maxminn. the Wife.This edition of Geoffrey Chaucer’s CANTERBURY TALES is copyright. Two similar editions of Troilus and Criseyde ( abbreviated and unabbreviated) are also available on this site.com/littleleaf The editor can be reached at the following addresses: Sarsfield0@aol. and the Nun’s Priest. It may be freely downloaded for personal or pedagogical use. PO Box 187. big or small. 2. called to his attention. but the editor would be obliged if users inform him. New York 11210. Other suggestions for improvement are also very welcome. The fuzziness of the letters on some screens will not affect the clarity of printouts. Milaca.maxminn. for the expertise needed to put this edition on the Internet. the Clerk. These are available from LittleLeaf Press. Separate print editions of some of the tales as edited here are available: 1. Manager of the Faculty Computer Lab. The editor will be grateful to have any errors. A Canterbury Quintet (ISBN 893385-02-7) containing the General Prologue and the tales of the Miller. Canterbury Marriage Tales (ISBN 0-9679557-1-8) which has the tales of the Wife. and to Suzy Samuel.com (zero after Sarsfield) or at 641 East 24 St.
readers have the language that Chaucer wrote. this edition is a good deal more conservative than Coleridge was prepared to accept : On Modernizing the Text Let a few plain rules be given for sounding the final • of syllables and for expressing the termination of such words as oc•an. and I will venture to say that I will replace every one of them by words still in use out of Chaucer himself. etc. Coleridge. if you read twenty pages with a good glossary. March 15. but surely so very slight a change of the text may well be pardoned. especially to those who are not English majors and those not interested in becoming medievalists. The change in spelling is meant to allow the reader to enjoy Chaucer not merely endure him. but without the frustration of trying to master the vagaries of Middle English spelling. even as it is. Only the spelling is modernized.or let the syllables to be sounded in such cases be marked by a competent metrist. for the purpose of restoring so great a poet to his ancient and most deserved popularity. enable any reader to feel the perfect smoothness and harmony of Chaucer's verse. With this text. with a very few trifling exceptions where the errors are inveterate. 1834 iii . The words are Chaucer’s line for line. It is more faithful than a translation but is a lot less demanding than the standard Middle English text. Even so. As to understanding his language. and natïon. Table Talk. as it is in Shakespeare texts. you surely can find no further difficulty. or Gower his disciple. as disyllables -. but I should have no objection to see this done: Strike out those words which are now obsolete. It is better than a translation because it keeps the verse and in Chaucer’s own language. I don't want this myself: I rather like to see the significant terms which Chaucer unsuccessfully offered as candidates for admission into our language. even by black-letterati. It is NOT a translation. but in a friendlier form than the old-spelling version.This edition is designed to make the text of a great medieval English classic more reader-friendly to students and general readers. This simple expedient would.
Spelling and Inflections A one-page version of this linguistic introduction can be found on p.xii below. nor yet a flat translation." Mediaevalia. 48-64. and this is a great obstacle for most people. It is designed for those readers in school. Hence it can also be used as an accompanying or preliminary text by those who wish to master Chaucer's dialect as it is displayed in scholarly editions. Here are some simple examples of changes from the manuscript forms. readers who do not want the vagaries of archaic Middle English spelling. This edition is not a translation. and "On Making an Edition of The Canterbury Tales in Modern Spelling.The Language of this Edition1 Some Chaucerians. For fuller development of the argument sketched here see my articles "On Not Reading Chaucer -. 205-224.Aloud. but all readers of Chaucer are forced to read him in the spelling of his day." Chaucer Review 26 (1991). act as if the works of the poet should be carefully kept away from the general reader and student. Others may read him in translation if they wish ! The text of this edition in modern English spelling is intended to subvert that misguided notion. This edition is meant to supply a version of Chaucer that avoids both simple translation or scholarly archaism. and reserved for those few who are willing to master the real difficulties of Middle English grammar and spelling. Everything is Chaucer’s except for the spelling. The citations are from Troilus and Criseyde and The Canterbury Tales. Very few scholars now read Shakespeare in the spelling of his day. and the speculative subtleties of Middle English pronunciation. The grammar. university. 9 (1986 for 1983). and the vocabulary of this modspell edition remain essentially unchanged from the language of the original. living room or commuter train who would like to read or re-read Chaucer as readily as they can read or re-read other classics in English. Categories overlap a little. 1 iv . the syntax.
. if any drope of pyte in yow be becomes if any drop of pity in you be Here be rhymes with adversity rather than with adversité. only the spelling. using our modern form wherever the meter allows. ye han wonne hym with to gret an ese becomes you have won him with too great an ease. When it is necessary or helpful to keep such -e-’s they are marked with a dot: •. wroughten. Even some archaic spellings are retained: For by that morter which that I see bren lamp / burn Know I full well that day is not far henne. departen. are retained and glossed. hence (a) Since the modspell forms burn and hence would give no kind of rhyme. This was a dialectal form for Chaucer who thought it funny. one syllable or two—to suit his metrical needs. Shakespeare could use either form— comes or cometh. The words mean the same with or without the -(e)n. ye loveres is changed to you lovers.every torment and adversite That cometh of hym may to me savory thinke in place of: in place of : v ..every torment and adversity That comes of him may to me savory think .. (See Rhythm below). Many other words also have an -e. Similarly aboven. A few examples from the early parts of T & C will illustrate: Fro wo to wele becomes From woe to weal. bren and henne.Virtually all words are spelled in the modern way. The modern form of the third person singular present tense ends in -s: he comes. (b) More frequently the older form is kept for the rhythm where the extra syllable is needed. withouten.. His standard form ended in -eth: he cometh.. from whennes cometh my woo . Notice that the vocabulary does not change.that we no longer use either in spelling or pronunciation. The most frequent and most noticeable occurrences are for those words ending in -en: bathen. as in the three occurrences in the first two stanzas of the Canticus Troili where I suspect that even with cometh (the spelling of the standard edition) the pronunciation was one syllable: If love be good.. from whenc• comes my woe ? If love be good. I follow his example here.
A regular assignment in college classes is for the students to memorize the first eighteen lines of the General Prologue of The Canterbury Tales in this reconstructed dialect. availeth / saileth. I have generally used its when that is the meaning. Pronunciation Whether read silently or aloud this text is designed to accommodate the reader's own modern English pronunciation.are sometimes retained for the same reason. wrought. For both meaning and rhythm. a word like bisynesse is retained as busyness rather than as business Vocabulary As we have said. (See further the section below on Rhythm and Meter) :- vi . Instructions on how to pronounce the different vowels. In these and in many others like them where a word has become obsolete or has changed its meaning over the centuries. I append a very rough "phonetic" transcription of those first eighteen lines of The General Prologue.in place of: From whenc• comes my wailing and my plaint? From whennes cometh my waillynge and my pleynte? By contrast the -eth is retained for the pentameter in the four rhyming words in T & C. beaten. clepe means call. Dotted -•'s are pronounced. nor wood to mad when that is the meaning. For those who are curious to know how medievalists think Chaucer's verse might have sounded. I generally use where when there might be confusing for a modern reader.in folk. consonants and diphthongs in this reconstructed dialect can be found in standard old-spelling editions. Chaucerian English often used there to mean where. durste means dared. I wot means I know and has the same number of syllables. Thinketh = Remember! Think! Past participles of verbs that begin with y. For Chaucer's hem and hir(e) I use them and their which were dialect forms in his day but which became standard like the -s of sends. so is the -l. I. and in the plural imperative that means the same with and without the -eth: Remembereth. Middle English used his to mean both his and its. 55: defendeth / offendeth. but the phonetic accuracy of the reconstruction is quite dubious. the vocabulary remains intact throughout. modified wherever that reader thinks necessary for rhyme or rhythm. Chaucer's word is kept and the meaning given in a gloss in the margin where it can be readily glanced at or ignored. Syllables marked with an acute accent are stressed. Scholars expect old spelling versions to be read in a reconstructed Middle English dialect whose sounds are at least as difficult to master as the archaic spelling. half and palmers. The word thee is not changed to you. but our word is not substituted for Chaucer's in any of these cases. They also mean the same with or without the y-: y-born. y-beat for born. y-wrought.
and they have moved to a u sound today. though they did in the original Middle English. the theory says that words like root and mood were pronounced with an o sound -. the i in mine was pronounced like the i in the word machine.Y. For example. the words that rhymed then would rhyme now. The change is called the Great Vowel Shift. Rhyme In any modspell version of a Chaucer poem it is clear that some rhymes do not work perfectly or at all. this theory says that in Chaucer's day the long vowels were pronounced more or less as they still are in modern Romance Languages. But the Vowel Shift was not wholly consistent. a change especially noticeable (to us anyway) between about 1400 (the year Chaucer died) and 1800. This is usually accounted for by the theory that English sounds have changed in a fairly systematic way over the centuries. blood. This passage and others are reproduced in the International Phonetic Alphabet in Helge Kokeritz's pamphlet A Guide To Chaucer's Pronunciation (Holt. vii . Whan Zephirus ache with his swayt-eh braith. and the yung-eh sun-eh Hath in the Ram his hal-f coorse y-run-eh. Even in Kokeritz. Hence.rote and mode. And smaaleh foolez maaken melody-eh That slaipen al the nicked with awpen ee-eh So pricketh hem Nat-yóor in hir cooráhjez-Than longen fol-k to gawn on pilgrimahjez And pal-mers for to saiken straunj-eh strondez To ferneh halwehs couth in sundry londez And spesyaly from every sheerez end-eh Of Engelond to Caunterbry they wend-eh The hawly blissful martyr for to saik-eh That hem hath holpen whan that they were saik-eh. Hengwrt Manuscript Whan that Auerylle with his shoures soote The droghte of March / hath perced to the roote And bathed euery veyne in swich lycour Of which vertu engendred is the flour Whan zephirus eek with his sweete breeth Inspired hath in euery holt and heeth The tendre croppes / and the yonge sonne Hath in the Ram / his half cours yronne And smale foweles / maken melodye That slepen al the nyght with open Iye So priketh hem nature / in hir corages Thanne longen folk to goon on pilrymages And Palmeres for to seeken straunge strondes To fernè halwes / kouthe in sondry londes And specially / from euery shyres ende Of Engelond / to Caunterbury they wende The holy blisful martir / for to seke That hem hath holpen whan at they weere seeke. the long vowel sounds might have changed radically.Phonetic Version Whan that Avril with his shoorez sote-eh The druughth of March hath pers•d toe the rote-eh. which is the standard version. And baath•d every vein in switch licoor Of which vertúe engendr•d is the flure. For example. and its inconsistency is probably most observable in the shift from o to u. This would not concern us much if the Great Vowel Shift theory worked perfectly. 1962). the uncertainties of the phonetics are clear from the fact that Kokeritz gives fifteen alternative pronunciations in sixteen lines. But for Chaucer the words hood. a word that retains its French pronunciation. Chaucer's mine is pronounced mean. but if the change was consistent. his name would rhyme with our calm. Roughly. Rinehart: N. his root with our boat and so on. would both have rhymed with mood and with each other ( hode. Inspeer•d hath in every holt and haith The tender croppez.
Donne's lyrics. French fashion. These accents have generally been marked in the text. mead and red. Most of the rhymes work very well. We should also perhaps remember that many of the rhymes of later poets present much the same situation -. and even Dryden's translations from Chaucer. The words creature and nature were both accented on the last syllable and the first has three syllables. heart and convert rhymed for him as they no longer do perfectly for us. Another reason that all of Chaucer's rhymes are not perfect for us is that some of his French-derived words still had their French pronunciation or were still accented in a French way. This accounts for the problem with now-imperfect rhymes like wise / service. The French-influenced Middle English spelling of natif beaute in the third line fairly clearly indicated stress on the second syllable in each word. in this case probably something like dine. and a few half rhymes or eye rhymes simply add variety that should be acceptable to modern taste. have and save. mode). Rhythm and Meter This section is closely related to the sections on Spelling and Pronunciation above. and many of his words of all sorts end in an -e where we no longer have it: viii . Many Chaucerian plural and possessive nouns end in -es where our equivents end in -s. Since digne is obsolete we can. for-passing every wight So angel like was her native beauty The original ME cite for city was probably pronounced French fashion with the accent on the second syllable. Sometimes. But the reader can make the decision how to pronounce city. give it any suitable pronunciation.blode. for us they are at best half rhymes or eye rhymes. Milton's rhymed poems. I have not marked the text as in the following: As to my doom in all of Troy city Was none so fair. The final rhyme in Troilus and Criseyde: digne / benign also provides a small challenge.Shakespeare's sonnets or Venus and Adonis. or simply accept the imperfections as half rhymes or eye rhymes which are well established features of almost all rhymed verse in English. one can either exaggerate a pronunciation in the French direction in order to make the rhymes work fully. Similarly deed and dread. presumably. (See also below the section on Rhythm and Meter). and produces no comment among their modern critics. In reading to oneself. Indeed the same final rhyming syllable that occurs in the description of the Squire in the General Prologue: serviceable / table also occurs in Milton's Morning of Christ's Nativity in the closing lines: stable / serviceable. however. This causes little difficulty for modern readers of Milton and the other poets.
That choice is still possible even after some of the -e's have been restored. thus: So that his soul her soul• follow might (II. So the rhythm of the original would be somewhat different from that of a radical modspell version (like my first edition of the Tales which dropped all the archaic -e's): Madam Pertelot.Madáme Pertelote.4) The question of pronounced -e. as they are here to satisfy a more strictly iambic meter: Madam• Pertelot. 68) Knew well that Troy• should destroy•d be (I. which is pronounced or elided as the meter demands. where it is clear that -ed has to be pronunced in either version. 106. It seems that Chaucer would have pronounced all the occurrences of -es and some of those of -e in these lines. my world's bliss. 160) The folk of Troy their óbservances old (I. the reader's sense of rhythm and meter has to tell him which -e's. In the modspell version the spelling reflects this: The folk of Troie hire observaunces olde (I. ix . 6:5) becomes but becomes There are many other occasions when the meter seems to require the pronunciation of a now silent or absent -e-.how they sing! And see the fresh• flowers -.arises with particular frequency in the ending of verbs in the normal past tense or past participle as in the line just quoted: Knew well that Troy• should destroy•d be. In such cases the • in this text generally has a superscript dot which the reader is free to ignore at will.how they spring! Sometimes the -e is pronounced or not pronounced in the same word depending on its position in the line.how they spring! The place of the syllabic -e's would have to be taken by apt pauses. my world•'s bliss.how they sing! And see the fresh flowers -. Hearken these blissful birds -. For example in the old-spelling Troilus and Criseyde the word Troye / Troie is almost invariably spelled with a final -e. unless the "pronounced" -e's are dotted. as they are not dotted in the manuscripts or in scholarly editions. 16:6) Knew wel that Troie sholde destroi•d be (I. my worldes blisse Herkneth thise blisful briddes how they synge And se the fresshe floures how they sprynge. Hearken these blissful bird•s -.
but I have not been relentless about it. eliding one of the e's. browes and piled: With scall•d brow•s black and pil•d beard Another illustration of a rhythmical question with a modspell version: Make no comparison . and the adversity needs to be said as th'adversity even if these elisions are not so marked in the text. And we will rul•d be at his device. of which the Chaucer manuscripts have many. and readers should use their own judgement about it. Oh lev• Pandare in conlusïon I will not be of thine opinïon The editorial accent mark on the i of conclusion and opinion suggests the possibility of pronouncing each word as four syllables: con-clus-i-on. x . there was such a thing as elision. In short. and ignore the suggestion to pronounce the -e's of scalled. One other thing to be kept in mind is that for Chaucer as for us there were unpronounced -e's and other unpronounced letters. and on the adversity Of other folk To get a pentameter Rememb'reth probably needs to be pronounced thus. the dropping or blending of syllables. o-pin-i-on as they presumably were in the original. for example: And set a supper at a certain price. that the following line in the description of the leprous Summoner in the Canterbury Tales is best read as a series of strong monosyllables. The rhythm is improved if the -ed of ruled is pronounced as it almost certainly was in Chaucer's day and as -ed was often pronounced in poetry until almost modern times..Or take this couplet from the Canterbury Tales. for him as for Shakespeare and for us. Thus ever and evil may well have been pronounced e'er and ill where the rhythm suited as in the following: “Alas!” quod Absalom.. reducing the number that seem to be present on the page. In this text such -ed's are often marked where the editor feels that the rhythm would benefit. There is plenty of leeway for taste. A reader might easily decide for example. “and Welaway! That tru• love was e’er so ill beset” (Orig: That true love was ever so evil beset) Remembereth you on pass•d heaviness That you have felt. but again the reader is free to prefer the normal three-syllable pronunciation and to be satisfied with a nine-syllable line.
And a line like the following is an impossible pentameter without some elision: And certes yet ne dide I yow nevere unright Look at the two different forms of the same verb in the following consecutive lines of Middle English: Thy gentillesse cometh fro God allone. Women desiren to have sovereignty Elision or slurring is particularly noticeable in a word like benedicitee. bensitee. generally. disáventure / creäture / measúre Reading a modspell edition of The Canterbury Tales or of Troilus and Criseyde needs goodwill.Our modern pronunciation of generally often has three rather than four syllables. xi . whatever way it was spelled. we are so accustomed to pronouncing every as two syllables that we do not notice that it is written with three. which I have adopted. ben-e-disitee. occurs in the second line in two MSS. Analagously. It was clearly pronounced with anything from two to five syllables to fit the rhythm: benstee. Than comth oure verray gentillesse of grace The spelling comth. and a three-syllable sovereignty fits well with this couplet either in its Middle English or modspell form: My lieg• lady. quod he. the first word should come out as one syllable: Fareth every knight thus with his wife as ye? Here the pronunciation of Fareth may have verged on Fares. but e'er in thine absénce or And short and quick and full of high senténce and rhyming groups like the following: sort / comfórt. a common exclamation with Chaucer's characters in the Tales. bendisitee. a pronunciation something like comes in both lines. STRESS: In some lines an acute accent is inserted to suggest a probable emphasis different from our current stress patterns If this be wist. dance / penánce. suggesting a common pronunciation of the word. Assuming the following line to have ten syllables. The alert reader will see and adapt to other such occurrences in the course of reading this version. its modern form.
a kind of brief "-eh". "eas•d". sleepen. weren.some intelligence. as they see fit. adaptability. as in "Inspir•d". led them up and down In thilk• larg• temple on every side. "sunn•". and a little skill. qualities that most of us would readily confess to. The text offers a choice. possibly with a light schwa sound." xii . Beholding ay the ladies of the town Now here. Similarly you may wish (or not) to pronounce the ï of words like devotïon. But gan to praise and lacken whom him lest. This preserves the extra syllable to indicate the more regular meter that many scholars insist was Chaucer's. 20) There is nothing to prevent any reader from ignoring the superscript -•. Blameth not me if that you choose amiss. seeken. "could•" for "could". for no devotïon Had he to none to reiven him his rest. liven. withouten. all instances of dotted •. in -n or -en have been retained for reasons of smoother rhythm: "lacken. woulden. Readers are invited to pronounce or not. "young•". It is perfectly possible to read "With locks curled as they were laid in press" rather than "With lock•s curled as they were laid in press." As in these examples a stanza like the following could get much of the effect of the pronounced -efrom a crisp pronunciation of final consonants or separation of words: young -. humor. and so on. "lipp•s" for "lips". The medieval endings of some words. The reader is the final judge. Similarly a sentence of strong monosyllables like "With scaled brows black and piled beard" should be at least as good as "With pil•d brow•s black and pil•d beard. and that many readers will prefer. how there. especially verbs. accustomed to In this deprive him of And blame (Troilus & Criseyde: I. Hence. etc." Some would prefer "She let no morsel from her lips fall" over "She let no morsel from her lipp•s fall".whenever you feel that is appropriate. to make three syllables for the word instead of two. "half•" for "half".knights This Troilus as he was wont to guide His young• knight•s. This superscript dot indicates a letter that was probably pronounced in Chaucer's medieval poetic dialect. A Short Note on How the Text may be Read This is mostly a brief summary of what has been said at greater length above. this modspell text has kept some medieval spellings that differ somewhat from ours: "sweet•" for "sweet".
y-taught. serviceáble to rhyme with table. daggér. An acute accent indicates that a word was probably stressed in a different way from its modern counterpart: uságe. End of Introduction xiii .as in y-tied. viságe. mannér.mean the same with or without the y.Such words mean the same with or without the -n or -en. Also words beginning y.
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